You may know the famous quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I can relate. Maybe you can too.
Throughout my life, I’ve compared myself to others. Sometimes it’s unhealthy, other times it’s helped me progress. Let’s look at comparison and compare notes. See what I did there?
Where do we Learn to Compare?
Blame it on the parents? We usually do, right? Maybe they have something to do with it but they’re a product of the society they live in too.
I can’t remember a point in my life where I haven’t compared myself to others. I wish I could.
I recall being an over-achieving, studious young girl. I was boosted by the praise of my teachers when they remarked on how my reading age surpassed that of the rest of my class.
Parents’ evenings were a triumph. This sounds boastful. It’s not because all the time I was comparing myself to others and still finding myself lacking.
Every time I received praise, I wondered if it was enough. How could I be even better and keep that praise coming?
Praise is addictive. Children and adults crave it. We want to be acknowledged and applauded.
If we strive for praise, we often compare ourselves to others. Being the best means getting more praise. Why is praise so important?
Children need validation. Growing up is a tough business. Being a teenager is often hell. Even when we’re surly adolescents who say we don’t give a shit, we do. Believe me, I know. I taught enough young people to know even the most unpleasant teens wanted praise. In fact, they were the ones crying out for it the most.
We learn to compare because other people are our point of reference for success or failure. Success and failure are woolly concepts. We define what they are to us.
What is Success?
My idea of success may be different to yours. It’s also an ever-changing concept.
When I was severely depressed, my idea of success was getting out of bed.
Success can be found in our appearance, work, raising a family, relationships, hobbies, interests, reaching goals… the list is endless.
The problem is that because success is such a fleeting and undefinable thing, we may never be truly satisfied.
I remember being unbearably insecure about my body when I was a teenager. To be honest, I’m still a little insecure about it now, but I digress.
As a teen, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror. I assessed every apparent lump and bump.
I’m thankful I didn’t grow up in the selfie/Instagram generation. I don’t know if I could have coped with the scrutiny, my own was damaging enough.
I look at photos of me from my teens and cannot believe how thin I was. I had to get my bridesmaid dress taken in to a size 6 when I was 16.
All I saw in the mirror was fat. I thought the natural tiny roll on my tummy meant I was fat. I exercised every day to Cindy Crawford’s DVD workout. It was torture, mainly because I had to put up with Cindy and her trainer babbling on.
Throughout the years my weight has yo-yoed. I’ve been morbidly obese. At that stage I laughed at my younger self who thought she was fat. I also gave her some love because she was so messed up.
When your weight changes a lot, you compare a lot. You try to lose weight to get back to a certain era in your life. If only you could be that size again. Then you’ll be a success. But you won’t, because other goals will be set. Other comparisons will be made. You’ll try to hit those markers instead.
Success is hard. Sacrifices are made. Mine have been mainly mental and emotional.
When I’m spiralling down, perfection and control kick in. I convince myself if I can just be “successful”, I will conquer the thoughts demons. It never works.
What is Failure?
Failure always seems to be a more concrete concept to me than success. That’s telling. I’m sad writing that.
I’ve learned to focus on failure and live with it far more than success.
This is not a psychological evaluation of me. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt like we’ve failed. We all need to learn how we define failure and how to deal with it.
Like success, failure is often a self-defined notion. Yes, there are certain failures such as not passing your driving test or failing an exam. These are hard to deal with because it is factual.
I think though that the failures we create in our minds are often the toughest to face.
There are many things I felt I’ve failed at. Some of them have been more certain than others.
The biggest sense of failure I’m dealing with right now is about being an author and my book.
I’m going to be honest. I’m fed up with some fellow authors telling me I should be grateful for my “success”. I want to be real. I’m not the only author who has self-doubt. I’m not the only person on this planet who has self-doubt.
Previous mental illness issues aside, my self-doubt is normal. When a self-published author tells me they’d be ecstatic if they had a publishing contract, in response to a post I write about my anxiety making it difficult to process being published, I’m gutted.
I know getting a publishing contract is the Holy Grail for many authors. Not a day passes when I’m not grateful for it. I’m not lucky though. I worked bloody hard for it.
My husband tells me off when I say I got lucky, and he’s right. I grafted to get my book accepted. 65 rejections, two years of working on my novel, two major bereavements, and recovery from depression, are my background to getting a publishing contract.
I understand now that when another author tells me to basically “woman up” when I express my feelings of failure and self-doubt, they are expressing their own.
It’s still not cool, though, to do this chin up and be happy bollocks though. People get ill because of those responses.
Every day I fight failure.
It tells me my book is slipping down the rankings and therefore it’s now a failure.
Failure is in not having enough reviews.
Failure is in worrying people won’t like the next novel as much.
Failure is in stressing that my publisher won’t want my next novel.
It goes on and on.
I’m learning to re-define failure. Age helps. I’m not a teenager, looking in the mirror and hating what she sees.
I’m a woman in her forties who’s had enough of some of the bullshit. I haven’t got time to stress over a few rolls of fat. One day they’ll piss me off. Another day, I won’t see them.
One book won’t define me. I love Hidden but I want other books in my repertoire. I want to keep churning them out until I can’t. This drives me forward.
I still compare myself to others. I look at other authors and wish I had their “success” but I also know they’re probably wishing they had someone else’s “success” too.
Famous authors are dealing with their own sense of failure. We’re humans, not deities.
Comparison as the Giver of Joy
Comparison is a thief of joy but it’s also a giver of joy. Competition can be healthy, especially when it’s with ourselves.
When I started running, I felt like shit, mainly because I weighed nearly twenty stones – yes, really.
I mentally beat myself up for being too heavy, everything hurting when I ran, and barely being able to run for thirty seconds.
I thought I’d failed.
I’m a stubborn bugger though. I kept at it. Yes, I continued to compare myself to others. Then one day it clicked.
Comparing myself to fit, slim runners who’d been doing it for years was ridiculous. I had to keep comparing myself to me.
I charted my own progress. I lost a shed load of weight and got fitter. I can now run faster and longer. My comparison is with myself when I started and along the way.
When I compare myself as a runner now to when I started, comparison gives me joy.
When I compare myself to the nervous woman who was too scared to contemplate writing, to the published author now, comparison gives me joy.
When I compare myself to the insecure teen who thought she was fat to the woman who’s lost a lot of weight but is still carrying extra pounds and does her best with it, comparison gives me joy.
I’ve not got it all figured out. I never will. Failure and success will always be there. They will change as I change.
Comparison will always be both a thief and joy. I’m winning, though, because I recognise this.
Over to You
Do you compare yourself to others? In what areas?
What are your concepts of failure and success for yourself?
Have you conquered comparison in certain areas and how did you do it?